St. Agatho - An Ecumenical Saint

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Remnatn of illumination of St. AgathoSt. Agatho ranks with St. Leo the Great and St. Hormisdas for his outstanding contribution to orthodoxy in the East. Agatho was a Sicilian, probably from Palermo. It is possible that he is the Agatho referred to by St. Gregory the Great in a letter to the abbot of St. Hermes in Palermo. The abbot, wrote Gregory, could receive Agatho into his monastery if Agatho's wife was willing to enter a convent. There are reasons to believe that Pope Agatho is this monk, but on the other hand it would make him a very old man indeed. Monk or not, Agatho was a man of amiable disposition who got along well with people. Probably he was efficient in business matters too, for contrary to custom, he kept the treasurer's office in his own hand after becoming pope.

The great event of this pontificate was the Sixth General Council, the Third of Constantinople which extinguished the Monothelite heresy and reunited Constantinople to Rome. It started when Emperor Constantine IV, the Bearded, having pacified the empire politically, desired to pacify it religiously. This capable ruler had defeated the Saracens and held back the Avars. Now he deplored the schism which separated the East from Rome. He wrote to Pope Donus suggesting a conference on the matter. Donus was dead by the time the letter arrived, but Agatho was quick to seize the olive branch proffered by the Emperor. He ordered councils held throughout the West so that legates could present the universal tradition of the Western Church. Then he sent a large delegation to meet the Easterners at Constantinople.

The projected conference developed into a general council. The legates, patriarchs, and fathers gathered in the domed hall of the imperial palace on November 7, 680. The Monothelites or One Will heretics presented their case. Then the letter of Pope Agatho was read which explained the traditional belief of the Church that in Christ there are two wills, divine and human. The council agreed that Peter spoke through Agatho. Patriarch George of Constantinople accepted Agatho's letter, as did most of the bishops present. The council proclaimed the existence of the two wills in Christ and condemned the old Monothelites Sergius and Cyrus. Pope Honorius was included in the condemnation. When the council ended in September of 681 the decrees were sent to the Pope, but Agatho had died in January. The Sixth General Council not only ended the Monothelite heresy but it healed the schism between Constantinople and Rome.

Pope Agatho also had to judge an appeal made from England by Wilfrid, bishop of York. Wilfrid arrived in Rome in 679 to protest against the action of Theodore, archbishop of Canterbury. Theodore had carved up Wilfrid's diocese, appointing three bishops to govern the new sees. Wilfrid appealed to the Pope against this rather arbitrary proceeding. Pope Agatho held a council to discuss the matter, and the wise decision was that Wilfrid's diocese should indeed be divided, but that Wilfrid himself should name the bishops.

Agatho is venerated as a saint by both Latins and Greeks.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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